Carbide and high-speed steel (HSS) are both incredibly popular materials for producing tool tips due to their hardness and durability. These materials are used to craft carbide end mills, HSS drill bits, and plenty of other machining tools! But how can you tell the difference between your carbide and HSS tools? Check out these tips below.


The first difference you may notice about your carbide and HSS tooling tips is the weight! Carbide tools are significantly heavier than HSS. In fact, for the same size of tool, carbide is roughly double the weight of HSS, so even a smaller carbide tool will be heavier than a larger HSS tip, up to a point.


The next thing you will notice will be the appearance. There are some subtle but noticeable visual differences between carbide and HSS. Carbide tends to display a darker grey hue, while HSS comes in a much brighter silver, but the finish on the shanks is reversed: carbide has a glossier, reflective shine while HSS usually has a more muted, matte finish.

If your tool tips have been used, the damage on them can also shed light on their material. Due to its higher brittleness, carbide tools that have been used may show chips around the edges, or may even have chunks missing from the tip. HSS, on the other hand, is less durable but also less brittle, meaning that it won’t chip but instead will dull and may show burn marks from the high temperatures during operation.


If your visual tests don’t work, this one is sure to solve your query! Carbon is not magnetic, but carbide managed to be slightly magnetic due to the cobalt binder used to hold the carbon and tungsten together. This means that if you apply a magnet to a carbide end mill, you will feel a slight pull of magnetic attraction.

However, HSS is far more magnetic than the small amount of cobalt used to create carbide milling cutters. So if you hold the very same magnet up to a HSS tip, you should instantly feel a more powerful magnetic pull, and there you have your HSS!